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If Fred McGriff is a Hall of Famer, so is Gary Sheffield

Sheffield is just as deserving as “Crime Dog,” who was elected to Cooperstown on Sunday.

Gary Sheffield #10 and Fred McGriff #29 of the San Diego Padres talk during batting practice of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies on September 1, 1992 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

It was “a beautiful thing” for Fred McGriff to be unanimously voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee. Nearly two decades after concluding an elite, consistent MLB playing career, he’s being immortalized. That bodes well for Gary Sheffield, who competed during the same era as McGriff and had a comparable (if not slightly greater) impact on the sport.

Here’s how they stack up in terms of counting stats:

  • McGriff—52.6 rWAR, 56.9 fWAR, 47.2 WPA, 2,490 H, 493 HR, 1,550 RBI, 1,305 BB, 72 SB in 10,174 PA (2,460 G)
  • Sheffield—60.5 rWAR, 62.1 fWAR, 61.6 WPA, 2,689 H, 509 HR, 1,676 RBI, 1,475 BB, 253 SB in 10,947 PA (2,576 G)

Sheff edges out Crime Dog in accolades as well:

  • McGriff—8x receiving MVP votes (6x in top 10), 5x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger, 1x World Series champion
  • Sheffield—7x receiving MVP votes (6x in top 10), 9x All-Star, 5x Silver Slugger, 1x World Series champion
NLCS- Atlanta Braves v Florida Marlins - Game Five

Sheffield won the lone batting title between them back in 1992, when they were teammates on the Padres. McGriff did not reach the same lofty single-season peak as Sheffield did on the 1996 Marlins (.314/.465/.624, 42 HR, 120 RBI, 185 wRC+). They went head-to-head in the 1997 NLCS, during which Sheffield had the superior offensive impact (.870 OPS to .756 OPS) in Florida’s upset of McGriff’s Braves.

McGriff was undoubtedly a better defender than Sheffield. He played an adequate first base on an everyday basis throughout his career with the exception of the very beginning and very end (when he DH’d). However, Sheffield was miscast as an infielder in the late 1980s and early 1990s, plus he didn’t have opportunities to be a designated hitter in his prime while being employed by National League teams. I’d argue that the volume of negative defensive value he accrued overstates how much of a liability he actually was.

While we can learn plenty from evaluating McGriff and Sheffield in hindsight, the contracts they received as players partially speak to how they were regarded in the moment by MLB decision-makers. According to Baseball-Reference’s estimates, Sheffield out-earned McGriff by nine figures, $168 million to $66 million. Even if you focus only on the years that their careers overlapped—1988 to 2004—Sheffield was paid $106 million, $40 million more than McGriff.

Because Sheffield’s career ended five years later than McGriff’s, he is still a candidate on the baseball writers’ ballot and not yet eligible to be considered by the committee that pushed McGriff through. Last year, Sheffield received 40.6% of the BBWAA vote, which is more than McGriff ever got but barely halfway to the 75% threshold for election. He’ll have two more years on this ballot before his case goes in front of a different, perhaps more supportive constituency.

For Sheffield’s sake, hopefully the committee consists of some of the same individuals when it reconvenes in December 2025, because anybody who voted for McGriff should also be in Sheffield’s corner considering their numerous similarities.